Pennsylvania panel recommends broad changes in child abuse reporting procedures

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HARRISBURG -- After 11 months of discussion and testimony, the state task force created in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal unveiled a thick report this morning recommending a broad set of changes to how Pennsylvania responds to child abuse reports.

Members of the 11-member Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, chaired by Bucks County district attorney David Heckler, urged lawmakers to take their suggestions and incorporate them into an on-going effort to improve state policies.

"We attempted to be bold ... but also realistic," Mr. Heckler said. "We tried to do the very best we could to improve a system that is woefully failing in a number of ways."

Among its recommendations:

- Update how state law defines physical abuse, which the task force said currently is vague and open to interpretation.

- Broaden the definition of "perpetrator," as well as expand requirements for who must report suspected child abuse to outside investigators.

- Increase penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse.

- Allow for more information-sharing between child-protection agencies and physicians.

- Improve tracking of child abuse reports at the state level instead of county-by-county.

- Establish a dedicated funding source for Children???s Advocacy Centers, as well as a plan for additional locations.

Many of the recommendations would need the General Assembly to approve them next session in order to be enacted.

But Jackie Bernard, chief deputy district attorney in Blair County and one of the panelists, said counties already have the authority to use multidisciplinary teams to combine the skills of law enforcement and child protection officials when investigating a suspected abuse case.

Gov. Tom Corbett said in a statement that he and his administration will review each recommendation, describing the report as "an important step in putting the protection of Pennsylvania's children first."

"It's my hope that we can take the work of the task force to help create a culture that promotes greater awareness, more accountability and better coordination," Mr. Corbett said.

The full report will be posted later today at on the panel's website, www.childprotection.state.pa.us. mobilehome - breaking - state

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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